As some of the coldest times of the year start to occur in many areas of the United States, it is crucial for pet owners to make sure their animals are appropriately sheltered as well as look out for other animals in the area. Cold weather can be devastating for pets causing hypothermia, frostbite, and even death. According to the Humane Society of the United States, when temperatures start to drop severely in certain regions, a significant increase in the number of complaints about dogs and cats left outside with no food or shelter happens without fail. In fact, animals being left outside in dangerous weather conditions is one of the most common forms of animal cruelty.
For some, it is misunderstood that dogs and cats, or any animals with a good amount of fur, can withstand the cold better since they have thick hair to insulate them. When in reality, these domesticated animals feel the effects of winter just as much as humans do. This issue of severe neglect has become so prevalent throughout the years that all states have some form of a law against it. In all 50 states, as well as Washington, D.C., animal neglect is a misdemeanor crime. In Massachusetts, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania, felony penalties can be levied for leaving a pet exposed to extreme weather conditions and in California, Connecticut, Florida, and Washington, D.C., felony charges can be applied if the animal neglect results in death. Other states with weather-related statutes include Nevada, Delaware, Maine, Texas, New York, and New Jersey.
One of the most recent states to take on the felony charge for animal neglect was the state of Pennsylvania. In June of 2017, Pennsylvania signed into law House Bill 1238, also known as Libre’s Law. This law provides protection for pets against cruelty, abuse, and neglect. A specific part of the law is for leaving pets out in harsh weather conditions making such actions result in felony charges, which can include seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine. Even further, the affected animal must be forfeited to a shelter. According to the statute, animals cannot be left outside for more than 30 minutes in temperatures above 90 or below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. The hope behind these stricter laws is to deter pet owners from any kind of mistreatment to their animals.
There are many different ways the everyday pet owner or even non-pet owner can help protect animals from the severe bitterness winter can bring. First and foremost, if any kind of neglect or abuse is witnessed, make sure to write down the time, date, exact location, and the type of animals involved. And if possible, take a photo or video to help the case. Then contact the local sheriff’s office or animal control agency to present this information and make sure to follow up, especially if the situation is persisting.
As for the care of personal pets, ideally during the coldest times of the year, it is best to keep your pet inside as much as possible. If your pet needs to be outdoors most of the day for whatever reason, make sure to have a dry shelter that is free from any wind draft and have the size be large enough for them to comfortably move around but small enough to hold in heat. The enclosure should be lifted a few inches off the ground, have some sort of covered doorway, and the floor covered with a material that helps with staying warm, such as straw or cedar shavings. Since being in the cold depletes energy faster, animals will most likely need more food than usual. It is also best to have food and water containers made out of materials like plastic since metal can get very cold. Make sure also to use pet-friendly ice melts for sidewalks and driveways. If you’re uncertain your pet has walked in an area with chemicals, wipe their paws down after coming inside.
Please keep all these items in mind throughout the rest of the winter to help keep the domesticated animals in the area safe!